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SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: Condoms catching on


Photo: Lourenço Silva/PlusNews
Demand for condoms is high at "hot spots"
SÃO TOMÉ, 23 July 2008 (PlusNews) - No one expected that the reaction to empty condom dispensers on São Tomé and Príncipe would be so angry.

"I thought the country had run out of condoms - you people are fouling up too much," Palmira Torres, the owner of Alfa Restaurant, complained to Almerindo Ferreira and Desinela Barros, who work as peer educators for the Italian non-governmental organisation, Alisei.

Condom dispensers were installed throughout the archipelago off the coast of Gabon at the beginning of the year, as part of an initiative by the National Programme for the Fight Against AIDS (known by the Portuguese acronym PNLS), assisted by Alisei.

Alfa Restaurant, near the port in the city of São Tomé, capital of the largest island in the group, was one of the 376 restaurants, night clubs and stores to be equipped with a dispenser.

But a month-long interruption in supply occurred when the vehicle that distributes the condoms broke down. This, combined with a lack of personnel, left the dispensers empty in a number of districts.

"Last Sunday a young woman came in here, all nervous, looking for condoms, but there weren't any. Who knows what happened to her?" said Torres.

The restaurant, frequented by government workers, sailors and sex workers, is one of the condom distribution points Alisei considers "hot": it only takes two weeks for a bulk package of 144 to run out.

The demand for condoms, which has been triggered by the placement of the dispensers, is a new phenomenon for São Tomé and Príncipe.

The estimated 1.5 percent HIV prevalence among the country's 160,000 inhabitants is considered low for the African continent, but health officials say the number of people becoming infected is rising.

With funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, each establishment with a dispenser receives a monthly supply of 432 condoms, which are available to the public free of charge. Nearly a million condoms were dispensed between January and June 2008.

''The condoms are sought after by everyone, but I think that younger customers are the ones who take the most''
Life savers

Early one morning at the beginning of July, the Alisei pickup truck brought a box of condoms to the Boca Loca restaurant, the first delivery in a month.
Nuno Santos, 25, who was eating breakfast, didn't wait to finish his meal. "The life savers have arrived," he joked, taking two packets from the dispenser.

"It was hard to function without the condoms," commented the Boca Loca barman, Valdemar Paquete. "All of the clients asked us a lot of questions because of the lack of them."

Also considered a "hot spot", the restaurant is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Business reaches its peak on Saturday and Sunday nights, when people leaving night clubs in the central part of the capital make a last stop at the Boca Loca.

"The condoms are sought after by everyone, but I think that younger customers are the ones who take the most. Girls also come here to get them," Paquete told IRIN/PlusNews.

PNLS Director Alzira do Rosário is heartened by the uptake, but said it remained to be seen whether people were actually using them. Nevertheless, the health authorities have applied to the Global Fund for additional funds to ensure they keep the demand for condoms supplied.

Alisei will also begin installing condom dispensers in more restaurants, stores and night clubs this month. The health authorities intend to have 400 distribution points set up by the end of the year, with the goal of guaranteeing greater access to condoms for the entire population.

rg/am/ll/ks/he

See also: SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: Condoms anytime, anywhere


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Prevention - PlusNews

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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